Mass. Poor People’s Campaign

This is really important effort, Stay tuned

Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
Media Advisory for February 5, 2018
Contact: Savina Martin, 339 216 7181

Massachusetts Poor, Disenfranchised To Join The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Poor People, Clergy and Activists to go to the State House, Demanding Moral, Just Political Agenda; Vow Historic Wave of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience, Direct Action This Spring

Local News Conference Decrying Systemic Racism, Poverty, the War Economy, Ecological Devastation Part of Nationwide Day of Action in over 30 States, District of Columbia

Boston, February 1, 2018 — Poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders from across Massachusetts will join the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Monday.

Poor people, clergy and activists will hold a news conference at the state capitol to serve notice on state legislative leaders that their failure to address the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality will be met this spring with six weeks of direct action – including one of the largest waves of nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history.

The Massachusetts delegation of impacted people and moral leaders will deliver a letter to politicians highlighting dozens of racist voter suppression laws passed nationwide in recent years and a stark jump in the percentage of people living in poverty. They will vow to risk arrest beginning Mother’s Day if politicians fail to adopt a moral and just agenda.

The news conference in Massachusetts will be one of over 30 at state capitols and the U.S. Capitol Monday, marking the first nationwide action by the campaign since it launched on Dec. 4, 50 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others called for the original Poor People’s Campaign.

WHO: Poor, disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders joined by many local supporters

WHAT: News conference and letter delivery at the Massachusetts State House and in over 30 state capitols and the U.S. Capitol as part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

WHEN: Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, 10:00 am

WHERE: State House steps on Beacon Street


The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is the product of a decade of organizing by grassroots groups, religious leaders and others to end systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. Expected to be a multi-year effort, the campaign will unite the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized, combining direct action with grassroots organizing, voter registration, power building and nonviolent civil disobedience.

Once again, what IS to Be Done?

September ordinarily offers me hope for better days, for making “plans for the Fall”.  Summer is ending,  school is starting, new people are coming around. But hope seems a bit foolish now.  It’s hard to feel better — except that much of the worst has not happened (yet) to most of us–maybe. The extreme weather even reflects my mood.  The world seems, and is, unsettled, out of sorts.  Charlottesville highlighted the reasonableness of my ever-present fears. I’m not paranoid. And I’m still angry — but not looking for “wellness training”.

Surely I can’t avoid seeing what’s happening to people and the values that matter most.  But what to do?

Obviously we regroup. We document. We prepare for the worst. We try to figure out what it means to resist.  We listen to each other, keep exposing all the grand and petty threats. Folks have done pretty well at blocking Him (and the Republicans) from doing the cruelest deeds. They look pathetic.  And the worst (declaring war? a white supremacist pogrom?) hasn’t happened.  But….still, it’s hard to imagine a better, intentional near-future. Hard to get it together, hard to find a focus and keep it. Hard not to sound hopelessly naive in continuing to call for “a movement”. But what else is there?

I can’t help being afraid of what is happening across the US and the globe.  The escalating crudeness and tolerance of violent words and deeds in so many places is unnerving. Now, too many suffer from Trump fatigue, and are even more likely to miss possibilities.

I keep coming back to the wisdom of Guy Standing’s warnings of increasing precarity. The insecurity that puts so many people in such danger is not only economic, it’s social disruption and moral enervation at the deepest levels. And it cycles in on itself. It breeds distrust. Maybe this is the essence of today’s populist nihilism. Everything feels off kilter.

For the next three weeks I’m in Europe, in Berlin, Prague, Bordeaux, and Lisbon. Seeing old friends, giving a few presentations about Basic Income. Looking for better ways to figure out what’s happening. What can happen. What we can do to find a new balance, to join with others, to find support for keeping going, for fighting back, for having hope.

Any ideas?

PS I do know that Reverend Barber, and the New Poor People’s Campaign are there, as are those at Political Research Associates and the Southern Poverty Law Center. But it still seems very hard.

Basic Income Blues June 2017


Inspired by the North American Basic Income
Guarantee Congress NYC JUNE 2017

I’ve got the Basic Income Blues….
Because in my heart
         I believe all need to feel secure,
                  to have enough to eat, to live, just to be,
Because in my soul, (whatever that is),
         I feel that BIG is a chance to live with hope, able to “speak our own truths” —
without so much fear of poverty, violence, homelessness, and distain.
Because, in my head,
         I know it’s possiblewe can get a BIG, IF we
work together, led by those who need it most,
Stay deeply generous, not tight, in our vision,
Not fearing failure if we don’t get it right the first time.
As Brandy sings, I want a Basic Income “Because I’m Alive.”

 I’ve got the Basic Income Blues….
But now I worry,
         because people with money, high tech status, and so much certainty,
         have “discovered” BIG, want to promote it, to design it,
                  to “own” the brand.
         Already, with hope for funding, the rest of us are obligated:
                  Obligated to please them,
                           obligated to “align with their values,”
                                    to place them in front of the cameras,
                                             to keep criticisms internal and “civil.”
         Because we can’t lose their money

SO I’ve got the blues…
I’ve seen it happen before.
         Seen radical movements, lose themselves in the quest for what’s possible, what’s
         winnable, for what’s fundable, for what seems to work,
                  but doesn’t.
Who’s most hurt then?
         Not the founders, not those who explain it, study it,
                  not the white professionals who discover BIG and “like the idea,”
Rather, the people most hurt are those who absolutely need a Basic Income, now:
         The precariat — our “new dangerous class,”
         People of color, immigrants, those less abled,
         People who hope a BI will change their present and their futures.
                  who want it for themselves, their families, and their communities,
                           who gain strength from imagining it, from working for it,
                                    and who will be most dispirited if we fail…
Let’s not go there…
Those who know poverty, up close and personal, must lead, not just advise,
                  head the table, not just be at it, when decisions are made,
                           when tactics and strategies are determined
                                    when the vision and goals are expanded
         Otherwise, only the form will remain, while the spirit passes away

And that’s a reason to sing the blues


PS I’ve got more to say in a discussion about what’s next for NABIG, about how to proceed, how to organize ourselves, and where we should not go. But that’s for later, based on collective responses to the Congress. But for now, I needed to send this out to my broader world,

THANKS for listening, and responding.


Suezanne Bruce — Basic Income as an Empowerment Tool

This is Suezanne Bruce, of Massachusetts Basic Income Initiative, MBII,  my partner in crime.  We are currently working together to link Massachusetts Basic Income organizing with Survivors Inc.,  the longstanding welfare rights/anti-poverty organization in Boston,  with an effort to create local chapter of the Social Welfare Action Alliance, SWAA (formerly the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society). We are doing outreach, making contacts, and hoping for funding from the Economic Security Project.  The proposal for this funding is below

Proposal to Economic Security Project

UPDATED, MAY 15, 2017

Building an Anti-Poverty Base for The Massachusetts’ Basic Income Initiative (MBII), Under the auspices of Survivors Inc., Boston, sponsor and fiscal agent

Ann Withorn, Director,  Suezanne Bruce Coordinator/Organizer

  Project Narrative

The goal of the Massachusetts’ Basic Initiative (MBII) is to launch an educational and mobilization Initiative that will directly link Basic Income ideas and actions with the ideas and goals of poor peoples’ groups and community organizations in Massachusetts. Thereby we will strengthen networks for BI education and action across community, academic and professional groups.

Our underlying purpose is build support for a Basic Income Movement among those people who will most benefit from BI by developing a model that specifically responds to visions and concerns articulated by people who experience poverty.

The MBII Initiative grows out of earlier efforts to connect supporters of the 30+ years-old Boston’s welfare rights organization, Survivors Inc., with the loosely organized four year-old network of Basic Income Massachusetts adherents. With ESP’s help, the Massachusetts Basic Income Initiative (MBII) will focus on:

1) effectively getting the word out about Basic Income to a wide range of poor people’s groups and their allies in antipoverty, social justice and community organizations. This effort will allow us to open dialogue and create plans for cooperation regarding a range of mutual concerns.  

2) building a base for a Basic Income Movement in Massachusetts through a variety of outreach methods. We will draw initially from the network of Massachusetts social and economic justice organizations that are led by poor people, immigrants and people of color. We will support discussion, based upon the differing experiences of people in such groups, about what a Basic Income Movement should be, and what strategies and tactics should be used to build it. These organizations are full of experienced activists who have been long-time allies of Survivors Inc;

3)sponsoring a set of conversations among low income people from varied backgrounds about “What a Meaningful Basic Income Would Be for Poor People: How much? How Distributed? Anticipated Complications?” We will transcribe, edit and use these conversations as a base for development of a Poor People’s Basic Income Model” by the end of Year One

4) collaborating with BIGMinn, to create a model for local BI organizing, for the purpose of learning about their extensive local outreach and organizing efforts. We will share results from our work with poor people’s organizations as a base of support for BI. From this collaboration we will together create a Guide to Grassroots Basic Income Organizing to be shared with other local BI groups. (The base for this joint endeavor comes from the partnership that Ann Withorn and Liane Gale have created thought their continuing co-leadership of the Basic Income Woman Action Group)

Over the year, MBII will use ESP funds primarily to expand the existing informal cohort of current BI advocates and allies in the Boston area into a more recognized source for BI ideas and activity within the Massachusetts economic/social Justice community. Our specific plans include

  • creating an active Advisory Group for MBII, made up of people who have worked with us previously around welfare rights, poverty, social justice and Basic Income concerns. They will respond to and help direct our efforts
  • engaging in outreach to, and engagement with, local poor peoples’ organizations by visiting with members, attending local events, and individual outreach to leadership.
  • sponsoring a set of conversations later in the year, among low income people from varied background about “What a Meaningful Basic Income Would Be for Poor People? We will use these conversations as a base for development of a “Poor Peoples’ Basic Income Model
  • preparing and distributing accessible material for the purpose of connecting BI talk/ideas directly with poor people’s concerns, in the hope to building joint efforts with sister organizations in Boston and across Massachusetts
  • supporting the continuation of Survival Tips and other traditional Survival News activities, through the Poor Peoples United Fund, primarily via an electronic format.
  • underwriting transportation to selected conferences and related BI-related national gatherings (i.e. , the June NABIG Congress in NYC, the June Michigan Welfare Rights Poverty Summit in Detroit, and collaboration with BIMINN, and national Social Welfare Action Alliance (SWAA) gatherings in Rochester NY, among others.

What is unique about our Initiative

Historically, much of Basic Income activity in Massachusetts (as elsewhere in the US) has been focused on developing and explaining the concept, speculating about what it might mean in practice , and reaching out to educated informed audiences, based primarily in universities, professional and civic interest groups. This work has been good. As have the pilot projects and other efforts to create real-world models for UBI.

We hope that our project will serve to further ground Basic Income in the philosophy and goals of US anti-poverty movements, based on conversations and collaboration with existing poor peoples groups in Boston and other areas of Massachusetts. Most specifically we hope that the creation of our “Poor Peoples’ Basic Income Model” will be of assistance to BI organizing throughout NABIG. Especially we hope our work will spur Basic Income advocates to bring more low income people, and anti-poverty activists, into all BI efforts.

Our Approach

in Boston, Basic Income appeals to us today because it is a natural extension of early proposals of the 1960’s National Welfare Rights Organization for a Guaranteed Income for all.  That effort had significant support in Massachusetts especially through local welfare rights groups in Boston, Cambridge and Springfield. For years it was carried forward by the Coalition for Basic Human Needs in Cambridge (CBHN,) a group with which many Survivors Inc. members were long affiliated.

The past work of Survivors inc, and the example of Survival News serve as the base for our approach — grassroots activism, lead by poor women, in coordination with low income and welfare rights groups around the country. The voice and activity should always be democratic, participatory, and representative of the voices and perspectives of people who have current and past experiences of poverty.


We view our request for support from ESP to build a Massachusetts Basic Income Initiative as essentially, an anti-poverty proposal in the fullest sense — and a way to establish a local base for establishing a model for a Basic Income that can help anybody who is currently poor, and also reduce the real and often paralyzing fear of poverty for all in the future. AND we are especially excited by our plans because we believe that any current Basic Income Movement can only succeed  in today’s precarious political economy if it also has significant numbers of poor people meaningfully involved from the beginning — along with other anti-poverty, labor, and community allies.  Otherwise BI is just another interesting policy scheme which will be discussed by policy wonks and academics forever. And, if it ever were to be enacted without such input, the result will likely shortchange the very people who are most deeply connected with poverty.

On the other hand, if all who see the imperative for a Basic Income can fully include, listen to, and take leadership from those who know deep economic/social insecurity and precarity in their own lives and within their communities, we may have a chance “to keep on keeping on.” Besides, if we can all take turns on the soapbox. our work becomes less lonely and more grounded.

Ann Withorn, our Director (un-paid) has engaged in related activity for many years — primarily though speaking at academic and organizationally-sponsored settings and through writing and media opportunities. From the start of her BI involvement in 1988 she has attempted to link the Basic Income and Welfare Rights Movements. Now a Professor emeritus from the College of Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Professor Withorn plans to play a leadership role in this Initiative based on her 40 years working with her adult students and activists in the Boston-area social justice community. She will also bring years of writing and collaborative experience to the effort, and especially to the production of the “BI Model for Poor People”

Suezanne Bruce, the Initiative’s Coordinator/Organizer, also brings extensive personal and profession experience with realities of poverty and front-line work around economic rights, anti-racism health access, plus experience with criminal justice, substance and domestic abuse and homelessness organizations. Ms. Bruce is well known locally for this work –across a wide range of Boston area community settings. Recently she graduated as a Community Fellow from Tufts University with a Masters in Urban and Environmental Planning, Ms. Bruce brings newly honed research and administrative skills to our Initiative.

In short, both Withorn and Bruce contribute wide knowledge, varied skills and extensive contacts to the Massachusetts Basic Income Initiative, as do our potential Advisors and community allies. That this combination of people will be actively involved is, in itself, a sign that MBII will interact with more than the set of the “usual suspects” who traditionally define Basic Income efforts.

 Related Sites

FB Woman Action Group

Acting Up, Not Out


On May 3,  I gave this as Keynote Conversation at York University in Toronto

Acting Up, Not Out: Facing the Perils and Possibilities of Radical Practice

Kieran Allen, Chair, Co-Animators: Ifrah Ali, John Clarke, Sandy Hudson, David McNally, Petra Molnar, Justin Podur, and Sheila Regehr


1. What can we learn from the history of radical movements, and where do we fit into this history?

2. What constitutes a Radical Practice for us today?

3. Who are we up against, and how do we face the implications of their assumptions and goals?

4. How do we respond to internal disagreements within our movements and still Keep on Keeping on?

5. How can we continue to move and act with radical vision and skills — in the face of these Very Bad times with all their accompanying pressures to settle for “realistic” options?

6. What are Some Radical Specifics for Radical Policy Changes? —–A Working List: Modify and Add to it…
See Ann’s website for more context

QUESTION ONE: What can we learn from the history of radical movements, and where do we fit into this history?

• We can’t learn without history, AND we must not romanticize it. We do so with real stories, with real people in them. Remember those times when identification with “The Movement” brought out the best in us.

• The Abolitionist Movement was the “touchstone movement” that set the model of bedrock commitment to radical equality. At its best, it exposed white supremacy as profoundly toxic –even if most white Americans didn’t all learn this lesson deeply enough.

• The Abolitionist Movement was inspired and led by people who experienced slavery personally, and who taught others to engage in “the movement” in myriad ways, setting an example for broad-based movements that has not been equaled.

QUESTION TWO: What constitutes Radical Practice for us today

• What is radically wrong must be examined carefully, and collective means for achieving change must be presented openly, without downplaying costs, or denying consequences. Otherwise our Movement should not be trusted.

• Inclusiveness and Openness about methods and standards for Radical Movement Practice are essential, as is a self-aware, committed base. Written expectations are good: “What is to Be Done and How do we know we are doing it?” — but folks must avoid danger of “the form remaining while the spirit passes away.”

• Assumptions of Radical Reformism (Gorz) are essential — failures MUST suggest the next radical change — not de-legitimate radical goals, even as they are subject to constant self-criticism

QUESTION THREE Who and What are we up against? and how do we face the implications of their assumptions and goals?

• The Opposition is composed of real people with fundamentally reactionary values and goals. Acknowledge, don’t dismiss, nor demean their commitment and the seriousness of their cause. Read their literature. Be prepared to expose the dangers, without fear of being “rigid.”

• Trump is NOT a joke, neither are his sycophants, followers and enablers — they knowingly hurt real people every day, and frighten those already in jeopardy.

• We cannot see individual Right-wingers as just “mistaken” or “misled”. Until they publicly apologize, it’s not worth the effort to try to change closed minds. BUT, we must gather evidence and prepare sharp counter arguments.

• White Supremacy blocks people from considering other explanations for what hurts them. We cannot forget this, and must figure out how to talk about and fight it everywhere, all the time

QUESTION FOUR; How do we respond to internal disagreements within our movements and still Keep on Keeping on?

• Don’t deny our disagreements. They are reasonable and should be examined — even if they finally lead to rearrangement of relationships. We can disagree respectfully and part without acrimony or making all “choose sides.”

• Constantly seek new alliances, and forge collaborative relationships, built on explorations of differences and openness about past tensions. The message: we don’t all have to agree but we can’t deny the implications of our arguments

• Remind ourselves of original goals, and specifically ask ourselves if they need rethinking — because of changing circumstances and new members. Anticipate internal change.

QUESTION FIVE: Nothing to IT, but to Do it — How do we continue to move and act with radical vision and skills — in the face of these Very Bad times, with all their accompanying pressures to settle for “realistic” options?

• Know what has changed. Don’t be fooled — keep seeking a wider net of potential comrades. Get to know each other as fellow human beings.

• Assume that leadership and demographics of power within our movement will, and MUST change over time. White people, especially men, must stand aside and assume supporting roles. LBGT presence is a Positive asset, as it lots of variety of cultural inclusion. Accept that this is not temporary, and is substantively essential. Respect and early questioning of past assumptions are our only hope.

• Keep track of ourselves, our tensions, our changes. Create the primary material for future history. Keep on Keeping On


Don’t shy away from proposing because they seem “impossible;” or it is not clear how to fund them. Of course, we will need more Public money — So What? AND be open for Critical Questioning from within.   KEEP CORRECTING, AND ADDING TO THE LIST, BUT STAY THINKING BIG
  •  Universal non-categorical Basic Income for All
  • Free Higher Education and a Student Loan Debt Jubilee
  • National Service for All — beyond military service, all non-profit community, educational and social service — with equivalent national benefits for two years before or after high school equivalency
  • Health Care for All — keep expanding the vision of “public”, and lowering regard for “private”
  • Open Immigration — why boundaries?
  • End Mass Incarceration, the criminalization of poverty and the Prison Industrial Complex
  • End Disability exceptionalism which relegates people with disabilities to a side issue
  • Gender Parity in leadership — Exceptions are not Allowed, otherwise we never get there
  • Universal environmental protections


Freedom is always, and exclusively, freedom for the ones who think differently.”―Rosa Luxemburg

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing”
― Raymond Williams

“Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.
And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth.
And that is not speaking.”— Audre Lorde

Fascism on our Doorstep? Crazy to think so? even if it may not be true (yet)…

Timothy Snyder is a Yale historian whose writing about Fascism and authoritarianism in Europe has reinforced my long-held defense of a state, with publically recognized rules, as essential for protecting ourselves in the worst of times. Without an identifiable public state system of some sort, it is harder for anyone to claim rights, name wrongs, and build movements for economic or social justice.

In Bloodlands: the Holocaust as History and Warning, (2016), Snyder offers a telling analysis of how this works. I draw upon his thinking when I challenge my more anarchist comrades’  blanket denunciations of “the state” or the “welfare systems.” I use his historical analysis of how the rendering of Jews as “stateless” allowed Nazis in Eastern Europe to destroy people much more efficiently and quickly than they were able to do in Germany,.  I cite him when I argue that many refugees in the US today are especially vulnerable because they often cannot claim any “rights of citizenship;” anywhere.  We can’t even deport people back to “failed states” that will not  or cannot claim to protect them.

Because I find his writing so powerful, I sometimes call myself a “Timothy Snyder groupie.” I try to hear him whenever he speaks locally, or on NPR, or anywhere on the web. I read what he writes, and am increasingly comforted by how he too fears so many of the same things I do.  And he seems increasingly willing to speak out.

Snyder sees the deep, radical danger posed by Trumpism — not just because of his particular fixations regarding health care, reform, or “Islamic terrorism”, or Russia, or whatever else he decides is “bad” on this day. . Snyder too is willing to label Trump’s whole approach to governing,  and to the state he now controls, as incipiently “fascist”. He sees it as coming out of the same cesspool of white supremacy, nationalism, and misogyny that has been present since the founding of this nation.. He is even willing to suggests possibilities that may not work out.

We should all listen, hard.  .

Please read this interview, share it if you will, and tell me what you think.

If We Don’t Act Now, Fascism Will Be on Our Doorstep, Yale Historian Timothy Snyder warns;

By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet 3/ 7/2017

How close is President Donald Trump to following the path blazed by last century’s tyrants? Could American democracy be replaced with totalitarian rule? There’s enough resemblance that Yale historian Timothy Snyder, who studies fascist and communist regime change and totalitarian rule, has written a book warning about the threat and offering lessons for resistance and survival. The author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century talked to AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld.

Steven Rosenfeld: Three weeks ago, you said that the country has perhaps a year ‘to defend American democracy.’ You said what happens in the next few weeks is crucial. Are you more concerned than ever that our political culture and institutions are evolving toward fascism, resembling key aspects of the early 20th-century European regimes you’ve studied?

Timothy Snyder: Let me answer you in three parts. The first thing is that the 20 lessons that I wrote, I wrote on November 15th. The book, On Tyranny, was done by Christmas. Which means if people read it now, and people are reading it, and it’s describing the world they are in, that means I’ve successfully made predictions based on history. We’re going to talk about what is going to come, but I want to point out that timeline—it was basically completely blind. But the book does describe what is going on now.

The year figure is there because we have to recognize that things move fast. Nazi Germany took about a year. Hungary took about two and a half years. Poland got rid of the top-level judiciary within a year. It’s a rough historical guess, but the point is because there is an outside limit, you therefore have to act now. You have to get started early. It’s just very practical advice. It’s the meta-advice of the past: That things slip out of reach for you, psychologically very quickly, and then legally almost as quickly. It’s hard for people to act when they feel other people won’t act. It’s hard for people to act when they feel like they have to break the law to do so. So it is important to get out in front before people face those psychological and legal barriers.

Am I more worried now? I realize that was your question. No, I’m exactly as worried as I was before, in November. I think that the people who inhabit the White House inhabit a different ideological world in which they would like for the United States not to be the constitutional system that it now is. I was concerned about that in November. I’m concerned about it now. Nothing that has happened since has changed the way I see things.

SR: Let’s talk about how this evolution takes place. You’ve written about how ‘post-truth is pre-fascism.’ You talk about leaders ignoring facts, law and history. How far along this progression are we? I’m wondering where you might see things going next.

TS: That’s tough because what history does is give you a whole bunch of cases where democratic republics beco regimes; sometimes fascist regimes, sometimes communist regimes. It doesn’t give you one storyline: A, B, C, D. It gives you a bunch of clusters of A, and a bunch of clusters of C. But factuality is really important and more important than people realize, because it’s the substructure of regime change.

We think about democracy, and that’s the word that Americans love to use, democracy, and that’s how we characterize our sem. But if democracy just means going to vote, it’s pretty meaningless. Russia has democracy in that sense. Most authoritarian regimes have democracy in that sense. Nazi Germany had democracy in that sense, even after the system had fundamentally changed.

Democracy only has substance if there’s the rule of law. That is, if people believe that the votes are going to be counted and they are counted. If they believe that there’s a judiciary out there that will make sense of things if there’s some challenge. If there isn’t rule of law, people will be afraid to vote the way they want to vote. They’ll vote for their own safety as opposed to their convictions. So the thing we call democracy depends on the rule of law. And the things we call the rule of law depends upon trust. Law functions 99 percent of the time automatically. It functions because we think it’s out there. And that, in turn, depends on the sense of truth. So there’s a mechanism here. You can get right to heart of the matter if you can convince people that there is no truth. Which is why the stuff that we characterize as post-modern and might dismiss is actually really, really essential.

The second thing about ‘post-truth is pre-fascism’ is I’m trying to get people’s attention, because that is actually how fascism works. Fascism says, disregard the evidence of your senses, disregard observation, embolden deeds that can’t be proven, don’t have faith in god but have faith in leaders, take part in collective myth of an organic national unity, and so forth. Fascism was precisely about setting the whole Enlightenment aside and then selling what sort of myths emerged. Now those [national] myths are pretty unpredictable, and contingent on different nations and different leaders and so on, but to just set facts aside is actually the fastest catalyst. So that part concerns me a lot.

Where we’re going? The classic thing to watch out for is the shift from one governing strategy to another. In the U.S. system, the typical governing strategy is you more or less have to follow your constituents with legislation because of the election cycle. That’s one pulse of politics. The other pulse of politics is emergency. There’s some kind of terrorist attack and then the leader tries to suspend basic constitutional rights. And then we get on a different rhythm, where the rhythm is not one electoral cycle to the next but one emergency to the next. That’s how regime changes take place. It’s a classic way since the Reichstag fire [when the Nazis burned their nation’s capitol building and blamed communist arsonists].

So in terms of what might happen next, or what people could look out for, some kind of event that the government claims is a terrorist incident, would be something to be prepared for. That’s why it’s one of the lessons in the book.SR: You have talked before about that kind of emergency justification—and even with Vladimir Putin in Russia. Is that what you think would happen here? Because with the exception of the judiciary, a lot of American institutions, like Congress, are not really resisting. They’re going along.TS: They’re going along… but my own intuition would be the emergency situation arises because going along isn’t going to be enough. Paradoxically, Congress is going along and is going to pass a bunch of stuff, which is not actually very popular. Right? It’s not going to be so popular to have millions of people lose health insurance, which is what’s going to happen. The ironic things about the Republican Congress is now it has the ability to do everything it wants to do, but none of what it wants to do is that popular. Except with the few big lobbies, of course. The freedom the Republicans have is the freedom to impose their agenda on down.

The same thing goes with Mr. Trump. The things that he might do that some people would like, like building a wall or driving all the immigrants out, those things are going to be difficult or slow. In the case of the wall, I personally don’t believe it will ever happen. It’s going to be very slow. So my suspicion is that it is much easier to have a dramatic negative event, than have a dramatic positive event. That is one of the reasons I am concerned about the Reichstag fire scenario. The other reason is that we are being mentally prepared for it by all the talk about terrorism and by the Muslim ban. Very often when leaders repeat things over and over they are preparing you for when that meme actually emerges in reality.

SR: I want to change the topic slightly. You cite many examples from Germany in 1933, the year Hitler consolidated power. So what did ordinary Germans miss that’s relevant for ordinary Americans now? I know some of this is the blurring of facts. But when I have talked to Holocaust survivors, they often say, nobody ever thought things would be that bad, or nobody thought he Germans would go as far as they did.

TS: The German Jews then, and people now, don’t understand how quick their neighbors will change; don’t understand how quickly society can change. They don’t understand the fact that a life that’s been predictable for a long time, doesn’t mean that it will be predictable tomorrow. And people like to think that their experience is exceptional. German Jews might have thought, ‘Well, there were pogroms [ethnic cleansing] in Russia, but surely nothing like that could happen here.’ That’s what many German Jews thought. So one issue is people need to realize how quickly things can change.

The second thing that German Jews were not aware of, or Germans were not aware of, was how new media can quickly change conversations. In that way, it’s not exactly the same, but radio at that time often ended up being a channel for propaganda. There are parallels with the internet now, where there were hopes that it would be [primarily] enlightening. But in fact, it turns out that with presidential tweets, or with bots, or isolated habits of viewing, it isn’t necessarily enlightening. It’s the opposite. A lot of us were blindsided by the internet in much the same way that people could be blindsided by radio in the 1930s.But here’s the other view. The one that we have that German Jews didn’t have in 1933 is we have their experience. That’s the premise of the whole book; the premise is that the 20th century showed us what can happen, and there’s lots of wonderful scholarship by German historians and others, which breaks down what can happen and how. And so, one of the first things that we should be doing is taking advantage of the one opportunity that we really have that they didn’t, which is to learn from that history. And that’s the premise of the book.

SR: All of your book’s lessons are very personal: Don’t obey in advance. Believe in truth. Stand out. Defend institutions. Be calm but as courageous as you can be. Yet the change or oppression that you are talking about is systemic and institutional. What do you say to people who say, ‘I’ll try, but I may not have the power here.’ There’s that cliche, tilting at windmills. …

TS: Well, if everyone tilted against a windmill, the windmill would fall down, right? Party of the tragedy of Don Quixote is he’s tilting against the wrong thing. So that’s not our problem. We’re pretty sure what the problem is. But he was also alone except for his faithful companion. We’re not really alone. There are millions and millions of people who are looking for that thing to do. Just by sheer math, if everyone does a little thing, it will make a difference. And much of what I am recommending is—you’re right, they are things that people can do, but they also involve some kind of engagement. Whether it’s the small talk [with those you disagree with] or whether it’s the corporeal politics. And that little bit of engagement helps you realize that what you are doing has a kind of sense, even if it doesn’t immediately change the order.

And finally, a lot of the political theory that I am calling upon, which comes from the anti-Nazis and the anti-communists, makes the point that even though you don’t realize it, your own example matters a whole lot, whether it’s positively or negatively. There are times, and this is one of those times, where small gestures, or their absence, can make a huge difference. So the things that might not have mattered a year ago do matter now. The basic thing is we are making a difference whether we realize it or not, and the basic question is whether it is positive or negative.

Let me put it a different way. Except for really dramatic moments, most of the time authoritarianism depends on some kind of cycle involving a popular consent of some form. It really does matter how we behave. The danger is [if] we say, ‘Well, we don’t see how it matters, and so therefore we are going to just table the whole question.’ If we do that, then we start to slide along and start doing the things that the authorities expect of us. Which is why lesson number one is: Don’t obey in advance. You have to set the table differently. You have to say, ‘This is a situation in which I need to think for myself about all of the things that I am going to do and not just punt. Not just wait. Nor just see how things seems to me. Because if you do that, then you change and you actually become part of the regime change toward authoritarianism.’

SR: You cite in the book something I read in high school: Eugene Ionesco’s existential play about fascism, Rhinoceros, where people talk about their colleagues at work, in academia, saying stuff like, ‘Come on, I don’t agree with everything, but give him a chance.’ Ionesco’s point is that people join an unthinking herd before they know it.

What would you suggest people do, when they run into others who fall on this spectrum?

TS: There are a few questions here. One is how to keep yourself going. Another is how to energize other people who agree with you. And the third thing is not quite Rhinoceros stuff, but how to catch people who are slipping. Like that CNN coverage last week of the speech to Congress, where one of the CNN commentators said, ‘Oh, now this is presidential.’ That was a Rhinoceros moment, because there was nothing presidential—it was atrocious to parade the victims of crimes committed by one ethnicity. That was atrocious and there’s nothing presidential about it.

Catching Rhinoceros moments is one thing. I think it’s really important to think about. The example that Ionesco gives is people saying, ‘Yeah, on one hand, with the Jews, maybe they are right.’ With Trump, people will say something like, ‘Yeah, but on taxes, maybe he’s right.’ And the thing to catch is, ‘Yeah, but are you in favor of regime change? Are you in favor of the end of the American way of democracy and fair play?’ Because that’s what’s really at stake.

With people all the way over at the end of the spectrum who are now confident about Trump—that’s a different subject. I think it’s important to maintain impossible human relations across that divide, because some of those people are going to change their minds. It’s harsh. But some will change their minds, and if they have no one to talk to, it will be much harder for them to change their minds. At different points on the spectrum, you have to think in different ways. My own major concern right now is with self-confidence and the energy of the people who do have the deep—and, I think incorrect—conviction that something has gone wildly wrong.

SR: The people who have the conviction that something has gone wildly wrong—that can describe Trump supporters and Trump opponents.

TS: That’s a good point. So much of this is personal. In the book, I don’t actually mention anybody’s name, except the thinkers who I admire. So much of this is personal that people think, ‘Well, if you say anything critical, it is about you as a person, and how you don’t like anything about someone who likes Trump.’ That’s a way for there to be no political discussion.

I think it’s useful, even though you will never win the argument, when you are talking about people who support to the administration, to stay at the level of the Constitution. To stay at the level of freedom, or stay at the level of basic issues, like, is global warming really going to be so great, when the entire Pentagon says that it is a national security threat? Or, is it really such a good idea to treat Muslims like this? Or, is it really going to be so good when millions of people lose health insurance?

Keep it at the level of issues as much as possible, because what I’ve found is the pattern that people shift to is, ‘Why are you going to be so hard on this guy? Give him a chance.’ But the issues of what’s constitutional, what is actually American, and what’s going to be a policy that they are going to be proud of a year from now—keep the conversation closest to the Constitution. It’s easiest to be dismissed when it’s personal. And fundamentally, this is the trick. It isn’t personal. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge. What matters is the system, which people of very different convictions take for granted, is now under threat.

SR: You have said that the Muslims are being targeted as the Jews were targeted in Germany. But out here in California, it also feels like the deportation machinery is getting ready for undocumented immigrants. On Monday, Reuters reported that Homeland Security officials said they might separate mothers from kids when making arrests. Germany did that as it rounded up Jews. Don’t they face just as grave a threat?

TS: With the Muslims, the resemblance to anti-Semitic policy in Germany in ’33 is that if you can pick some group and make them stand in for some international threat, then you can change domestic politics, because domestic politics then is no longer about compromises and competing interests, domestic politics is about who inside the society should actually be seen and outside the society. Once you get the wedge in with the first group, them you essentially win. It could be the Muslims. It could be somebody else, is the point. The political logic is basically the same.

With undocumented immigrants, I think the logic might be a little bit different. I think the goal might be to get us used to seeing a certain kind of police power. And getting us used to seeing things happening to people in public. And then if we get used to that, then we might be more willing for the dial to turn a little bit further. It’s too soon for me to speculate confidently about all of this.

I think you’re right though, it could be the Muslims, but it doesn’t have to be the Muslims. The crucial thing is to get some kind of in [political opening] where people go along with or accept stigmatization. And the logic is there’s always some kind of threat that comes from beyond the country. And that we can fix that threat on a group of people inside the country. And if you go along with this, what else are you agreeing to go along with?

SR: To go back to your book, what you’re saying is that people should be vigilant, should know their values and participate at some level with making those values known, because that is what ordinary people can do.

TS: Yes. The point of the book is [that] we are facing a real crisis and a real moment of choice. The possibilities are much darker than Americans are used to considering. But at the same time, what we can do is much more important than we realize. The regime will only change if the gamble of the people in the White House is right: That many of us despise many others of us and that most of us are indifferent. If it turns out that there are emotions and values that are more numerous and more vibrant than indifference and hatred, things are going to be okay. That depends on us. That depends on us making certain realizations. It depends on us acting fast. In that sense it’s a test, not just collectively. Maybe there’s no such thing as a collective test. But it is a test for us individually.

Most Americans who haven’t been abroad haven’t been faced by something like this. And hopefully they won’t be faced with it again. But we are faced with it as citizens and as individuals. And I think, five or 10 years from now, no matter how things turn out, we’ll ask ourselves—or our children will ask us—how we behaved in 2017.









Trying to Keep on Top of the Craziness

The barrage of stories from the first month of Trump’s Reign of Reaction has been intense.  I wake up ready to respond to the latest outrage.  But before I can compose myself, others have done so, with more clarity than I can muster.  For example, just last week, I was ready to write a broiling post entitled:  Republicans to Elizabeth Warren: “Shut Up, Girlie. We don’t even want to hear your shrill voice”: Our response:”We are women, Hear us Roar.”  But by then Maureen Dowd, Michelle Alexander,  or Gail Collins, and lots of others had already roared. So who was I to think my voice was so special?

Still, I guilt trip myself: why did I miss a meeting, or a resistance conference call: “How can I not be there? Will I miss a crucial act in the Seizure of Power? Or the chance to hear the One Good Idea that will show us the way to act, or at least to think?  I, who declare myself to be “Radically Reentering”? I obsess. I forward enough emails for my friends to block me.  I irritate my loved ones — one of whom said quietly to me “Mom, I read the news too.” I don’t write in my blog often because it seems too public, unpolished, and since I am so hyped up, I may have to apologize within a day for what I said, or didn’t say.

I remember being this worked up 45 years ago. As a budding historian I had never thought this county could launch a revolution from the Left, although as a White Southerner I was always ready for any  Rightwing rebellion.  But then, on a Movement bus to hear some Black Panthers speak out against the War, and racism, and “Amerika”,  I heard myself say: “maybe we will have a Revolution, because I just can’t take it anymore.”

Luckily, I figured out quickly how foolish, and self-absorbed, this was.  “We” had no plan, no strategy, no sense even of who constituted our “we” — and certainly we had no analysis of who would be the losers if we radicals were wrong in declaring that the Time was Now. We white radicals had no ideas about how to get out of the way so that those who would be most in danger in any revolution could take leadership. We simply were not the ones to lead any revolution in this so badly compromised USA.  We shouldn’t try to do so; we couldn’t do so, and if we tried, we would fuck up and others who were poorer and darker would pay the price for our arrogance.

SO I kept trying:  trying to live with a sense of purpose, to teach, write and act as part of the Resistance.  To be someone who never expected or wanted to fit in.  Sure , because I was a white, heterosexual and married, I was able to find a base within a public university in a Northern state and city.  So I was able to be ok.   I tried to stay oppositional in words, if not always in deeds. But this was seldom more than an internally generated necessity.  I had no community demanding radical resistance from me, no one to really hold me to account.

But that doesn’t feel true now.

These are crazy-making times.  I have no excuses.  Even more, I have deep obligations to resist to a point of intensity that makes others uncomfortable, or to avoid me. I don’t know what this means, really.  But I have to keep at it, with help from my friends and those who must insist.  Exactly because I know that the Forces of Reaction will win a lot more before they can be pushed back, I have to keep at it, in any way this poor 70 year old mind and body can manage.

New resources for resistance

I submitted this to the Boston Globe:  Who Knows If it will be printed?

Globe coverage of Donald Trump’s first days in office has been strong. The reportage and editorial commentary were pointed, especially in regard to his most immediately endangered targets — refugees, immigrants, all Muslims, and the Affordable Care Act.Keep it up.

BUT, at the same time, please focus also on the people who will continue to be victims of his policies and politics. African Americans, Latinos and poor people will remain every day losers in his “great again” America. Your white readers especially must reminded of this, not just offered new daily victims to protect and defend.

Trump himself often says, “you know what I mean.” So we do. As do Globe writers and readers. Do not pick only the day’s most vulnerable to write about. Pay attention to all in harm’s way. Otherwise, this man and his handlers will slip more meanness through the cracks of any walls he proposes to build.       Ann Withorn, Professor of Social Policy emeritus

ALSO Check out the new additions to the Resources Pages of my website…More to come, but these seems especially useful today

An Exchange re Basic Income, January 2017

I would appreciate comments.

Last week I received the following message sent from my Minneapolis BI comrade Liane Gale

F.Y.I. ….important piece by Scott Santens. A Basic Income 101 he was asked to write for the World Economic Forum.

Her Comment “I don’t think anybody of the Basic Income movement should be giving that much details on Basic Income”:

First Sentence: Consider for a moment that from this day forward, on the first day of every month, around $1,000 is deposited into your bank account – because you are a citizen. This income is independent of every other source of income and guarantees you a monthly starting salary above the poverty line for the rest of your life.

…Meanwhile, just a few examples of existing revenue that could and arguably should be fully consolidated into UBI would likely be food and nutrition assistance ($108 billion), wage subsidies ($72 billion), child tax credits ($56 billion), temporary assistance for needy families ($17 billion), and the home mortgage interest deduction (which mostly benefits the wealthy anyway, at a cost of at least $70 billion per year).”

After reading Santens’ whole article,”Why We Should All Have a Basic Income” that Liane attached (linked here) .  I also cc’d many in the BI community, I wrote Santens (on the day after marching the wonderful Boston Womens March:)

You my be joining the wrong team this time, man. 

Moral  (and political) arguments for Basic Income cannot start by claiming to end the measly protections offered by our already abusive social state.  

Sure, any viable, universal BI would mean shifts in state spending allocations, along with countless other changes in public programs.  (I would argue, for example, that BI would allow major reductions in our massive expenditures for prisons and other poverty-driven criminal injustice costs). 

But, for sure, our arguments MUST be made based on the positive values and potential benefits of BI, not because it will reduce or end existing social welfare costs. 

 You know this, Scott. So don’t play to the libertarian crowd. It hurts us in the same way that that pressures to support Nixon’s proposal for an deeply inadequate guaranteed income divided and confused Democrats, and the Civil Rights Movement, 50+ years ago. 

Our positive arguments and social values stand for themselves. If we act this way then internal debates are honest differences about implementation strategies. And external strggle with political adversaries can be based on open, unfettered disagreements about meaningful social and economic priorities. 

It’s not about finding winnable marketing slogans. 

Please, Mark. Don’t use the bully Pulpit of the WEF this way. As Rev Barber says so powerfully these days “It’s not about Left vs. Right anymore, but about right vs wrong” 

Poverty and radical economic inequality are wrong, simply wrong. And they must be opposed as such. BI is part of that opposition. 

He replied right away:

Did you really just include me in a mass email in disapproval of my article for the World Economic Forum?

 We absolutely need to replace some of our existing means-tested safety net. Targeting is a flawed idea. Aside from social stigma and administrative waste, it introduces type II errors that end up excluding the very people who need it most. You know this.

 TANF is a prime example of a program that should be 100% replaced. No one in their right mind who knows any of its details should defend continued TANF existence alongside UBI.

 I am very careful about communicating what should IMO be replaced. At no point do I suggest we should replace health care with UBI. I never do that. Universal health care is a vital but separate issue than cash grants, IMO.

 I also am careful to suggest treating important programs like Social Security and Disability like top-ups where no one on these programs is ever in any way worse off and are in fact all better off, and yet money can still be saved in these areas because existing recipients effectively are already receiving basic income, but with conditions applied.

 For example, if 33% of Social Security funds were considered part of the funding for UBI, someone earning $1500/mo right now could receive $1000 in UBI and $1000 in Soc Sec, leaving that person $500 better off per month. That to me makes good sense. Or we could just let those on Soc Sec choose between it or UBI. Either way the price tag of UBI goes down, which is extremely important for political viability.

 Finally, many programs will disappear naturally as a result of UBI without doing a thing to actively get rid of them.

 Consider for example a $1 billion program that only helps those with annual incomes lower than $5,000. Now provide a $12,000 UBI. No one is earning below $5,000 anymore. That $1 billion is no longer spent, but the UBI is, and so the UBI can be seen as being $1 billion cheaper than we think it is, by having replaced a $1 billion program that technically still exists despite not providing anyone with anything anymore.

 I firmly believe UBI is far too important to be dragged down by partisan politics and tribal us versus them thinking. I will continue fighting for UBI as being neither left nor right, and in so doing, speaking to all audiences in a way those audiences can best understand and support.

 I also believe when the time comes to draft actual legislation that those with varying visions of UBI can and must at some point sit down at the same table and together negotiate a grand compromise where everyone gets something they want but not everything they want. Some details should be considered non-negotiable like for example unconditionality, whereas some should absolutely be considered negotiable, like for example the amount itself. But no one should go into a negotiation wanting everything or nothing, because that’s a great way to get nothing.

 I’m doing everything I can for this cause. I think UBI is the single most important change we can make to human civilization. If you don’t like the way I’m doing it, and think of me as somehow “conspiring with the enemy” by writing an article about basic income for the WEF and in so doing reaching millions of new people all over the world with the idea for the first time, including those with the deep pockets and influence to really do something about it, then I’m sorry we’re not quite on the same page here, strategically speaking.

 And please, in the future, send me emails in private, instead of intervention style.

Then I replied

I was also planning to post this, along with your article, on my website, Scott. 

Sending it to you first,  with cc’s to movement comrades, was meant exactly as a way to communicate directly to you–within our community–regarding my response to your particular way of promoting UBI. I hope it will push you to try harder to be a part of that community, not to speak FOR it…

which seems to be effect, if not the goal, of your success as spokesman for BI. 

If you wrote more often with others it would help. Or, at least, it would help if you spent more time recognizing the range of perspectives within BI in whatever you write

Thankfully, we don’t have a party, nor a party line, Scott.  But that is, exactly, a reason for all of us to be careful when presenting our own ideas before broader forums of what BI is, or could be, as if they were more representative of the movement, than we can possibly know. 

I guess I was just trying to say, remember that you are still just one among many. 

In struggle

PS I acknowledge that this week has made me especially frustrated by men who claim to speak for me. Yesterday, was a great outpouring of such frustrations. 

You, of course, are not Trump, but you sometimes do seem to assume similar powers to speak for others who, if you were listening, didn’t ask you to speak for them. (I hope you marched beside women in a pink pussy hat yesterday).

Also, if you did know anything about me, my life and my writing, you would not presume to mansplain to me about how bad TANF is. Of course, I know this AND I know too that welfare rights are human rights that have been too long denied by lots of people, including men of the Left. 

PS2 I guess what I was trying to say was what Karl, more diplomatically, just responded to you:  that we need to hear and distribute many of the wonderfully rich points of view within our movement. He has a long record of respect for this. You can try harder.  Exactly because you write and speak so strongly, you have an obligation to the rest of us to do so.

Postscript: The following response came from Karl WIderquist, (a long-time Basic Income leader whom I respect immensely) and was sent to Scott

Probably not everybody on the list Ann created wanted to be cced into what could become a growing thread.

I think we need diverse voices arguing for BIG in different forms and different ways. A movement’s effort to achieve intellectual purity often also achieves a lot of infighting ad political irrelevance

Messages were overlapping, but somehow Karl then wrote me privately after reading my comments to Scott

I think you misconstrued my email. It was meant to be a criticism of you rather than him. You emailed him apparently trying to shame him in front of more than 20 other people. So, you invited him to defend himself to that same group. You told him not to criticize the welfare system. So, you invited him to explain why he attacks the existing system.

I think you’re wrong in your perception that Scott attempts to speak for you or anyone else. He holds no official position. He’s never claimed to speak for anyone but himself. He just had the time and to learn now to publish, and he was able to take the time to publish a lot. He started on blogs that will publish anyone, and got himself to the point where mainstream media pays attention. But still he just speak for himself. So, when I said a movement’s effort to achieve intellectual purity often also achieves a lot of infighting ad political irrelevance, I meant your effort to make Scott fall into a party like is an effort to achieve intellectual purity.

Instead of trying to convert him to full agreement, you could accept that although he’ll never agree with everything, he’s already an ally who agrees with most of what you believe, and he’s going to say what he believes. I hope you’ll write what you believe and be the voice for what he leaves out.

Also, you might not be aware, but your email might come off as mean, bullying, or condescending. I don’t think you want to come off that way.

But of course, I accept that you’re going to do what you think is best.

I replied

I hear you, Karl. 

But it is Scott who consistently acts as if he speaks for BI. AND he acts like he thinks it is fine for him to do so. 

Who is he to say what programs will be cut, and for what benefit? 

 If he choses to write for a forum like this he should not act like he is speaking for anyone but himself. Did you really read what he wrote?  

 If I were to give his piece to the welfare rights folks I work with, they would be even more skeptical of BI than they already are. Whenever we talk about Basic Income all worry that well off white men will once again decide what is “Basic”for them.  There is real distrust based on real history, even when folks are attracted to the idea.   Scott doesn’t get this.

Saturday millions of women around the world said “no mas” to arrogant men.  For good reason.  Enough. 

I do think we have to stop having private sidebar discussions. We shouldn’t avoid calling people out before the community if they chose to write a public statement. Scott is very able to defend himself, as am I, as are you.   His taking offense about my sharing my comments was a bit much.  

I think the movement will only grow if we have open debates with each other. 

I respect Scott’s commitment to BI and his clear writing, but he presumes too much, and takes up way too much space.  

Those days are over. 

You never act like this, Karl.  You give lots of people credit. Your writing and your speaking and your BI work is inclusive and invites questioning, even as you exhort folks to action. 

You don’t need to defend Scott. He wouldn’t defend you. 

Take care


I’m cc’ing this only to Liane.  But I know many BI women who feel the same–and several men too.

My last word to Karl;

And I DO hear you about my tone. I’m sorry. 

It is just so hard to have to keep swallowing my frustration with men like Scott.   

But I will try harder.





On Being a White Eastern Intellectual — But hopefully not an Elitist one

On Being a White Eastern Intellectual — But, hopefully, NOT an Elitist one

Ann Withorn, December 2, 2016

Last night I attended a Radcliffe talk by Jacob Hacker about “American Amnesia.” I wanted to hear a noted liberal ivy-league intellectual discuss our political situation. Although prepared to be made uncomfortable by the precious surroundings, and to be critical of the expected prideful expertise of the speaker and audience, it seemed worthwhile.

It was.

Hacker’s talk was non-pretentious, and as infused with unease about how he too had not really anticipated the election, and how unsure he is about how to respond as everybody else is. No arrogance. Just trying to think out loud, building on his latest book and life’s work. He set an example for how all of us should be reacting to the debacle.

When pushed about why he had not spoken about race and whiteness, he responded simply that he “should have.” He explained how in his book he had discussed race, while acknowledging that he had not spoken nor written more about the “predatory state” and its targeted “disproportionate impacts” on people of color. No shillyshallying.

Hacker answered another question doubting whether “bipartisanship” is possible now, with a thoughtful analysis of how sharpening party alignments make compromise was far less useful to either party anymore. Especially, he speculated, this happens because Republicans have seemingly almost given up on both governing and government. The only question he flubbed was from a local public university professor who asked about possibilities for re-activated progressive social movements. He did not deny their potential role, but just seemed unconnected from such close-to-the-ground possibilities.

Through the long Q&A, Hacker listened respectfully, picking up on on aspects of questions about which he felt able to comment. But he did not feel called upon to present himself as expert on everything. This is usually difficult for a Yale professor at Harvard to do.

It was impressive, enlightening, and informed by the presence of a room full of smart, critically inclined people who self-identified as students, academics or “members of the public”. Lots were women; fewer were obviously “of color.” But all were engaged and paying attention.

I have to admit I felt comfortable there. And then I felt equally uncomfortable with the realization that, as much as I have long tried to run away from it, I am a white Eastern Intellectual. I don’t think I am an Elitist, but I do value serious learning and a “life of the mind,” even as that life remains so distanced from so many people.

Throughout much of my post-Harvard, public university-based life of social activism, I disparaged the whole academic milieu that helped me grow up to comprehend and to achieve. I scorned the we-know-betterist pretentiousness of Harvard. This Fall, when the Kennedy School received a multi-million dollar grant to study poverty, I was outraged. Just because they are at Harvard, who do they think they are to supersede all the already existing excellent research of my friends and colleagues at U.Mass.Boston, and elsewhere in the City? Not to mention to ignore the longstanding and already deep knowledge about poverty embodied in all sorts of Boston people?

But after last night, I must argue for hard thinking, for deep historical knowledge, and for all sorts of “data”, regardless of the source, as our best hope for confronting Trumpism. AND I must acknowledge that hard thinking, historical awareness and important research often do occur within universities — especially in those with the funding and conglomerate of expertise that places like Harvard and Yale exemplify. Yes, the environment there is often disrespectful to those who are not “deeply connected.” But not always. And even so, I am wrong to deny how much can be learned there, protected by the privilege of achievement.

Maybe my best hope today is that my post-Harvard life has taught me how much more and different intelligence can be found beyond the white eastern intellectual redoubt. This are things I know that many people still in such places do not. I know, as my wonderful Detroit husband George always says, that “their shit doesn’t smell like ice cream, either.” I know, for example, that poor women have insights and theories drawn from their lives that must be heard, and that many workers (especially union members) are able to examine what it hurting them in complex, excruciating detail. And, especially, I know that the direct perspectives of Black and brown people are essential to any way out of our current mess.

Maybe now that the times demand radical realignments of all sorts, I can help more that I have heretofore tried to translate across boundaries. It must be possible to overcome the inherent limits of it all: from the whiteness, the undeserved privilege, and from all the other protections of class and educational advantage. Such “social capital” is only valuable when it proves worthy of being useful. But maybe it is time for me and others like me to try harder.

We cannot pretend to be “elite”, much less to have any natural claim to leadership. But neither can we deny that we may have useful information and tools to share, when asked — if we can do so with humility and in anticipation of being corrected. All the time.

Please see below for some historical background for this post. It’s also on my website



Published: Thursday, April 23, 1970

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

I am leaving graduate school. I am leaving because I do not think history is a “business” as Professor Bailyn has said it is. I am leaving because all intellectual enthusiasm is being drained out of me by studying for generals and writing and thinking to please others. I am leaving because I am horrified when Professor Handlin suggests “ranking” our class from one to fifteen as an alternative to grades. I am leaving because Roman history means nothing to me and I can think of better ways to discipline my mind. I am leaving because I am already “withdrawn” from a Department which Professor Bailyn describes as “senior faculty.” I am leaving because I cannot associate with a faculty which can criticize someone for having “too much imagination and not enough tough-mindedness.” Spare me from the tough-minded of this world.

I am leaving because I do not wish to be in the ambiguous position of earning a Harvard Ph.D. in order to prove to people that a Harvard Ph.D. means nothing. I am leaving because the History Department “Revolution” last year has been ignored: all that has happened has been the appointment of a graduate student advisor, the establishment of an “auditory” student-faculty committee, the promise of a History Center in the Yard, and the promise of a paper justifying Department policies. I am leaving because the best teacher in the Department, Professor Bailys, admits that he envies a scholar who can work without ever teaching. I am leaving because I do not want a degree which is, as Professor Freidel says, simply a “union card” which allows me to teach in an “acceptable” school. Spare me from the “acceptable” schools of this world.

I am leaving because I do not believe a “relevancy crisis” is sophomoric but that it is something which one should have every day of one’s life. I am leaving because one professor’s opposition was enough to prevent me from transferring from History into American Civ. I am leaving because I do not think that one should necessarily be polite to the Visiting Professor Links who identify with and justify the Woodrow Wilsons of this world. I am leaving because I deny the elitism which Harvard represents and, even worse, in which people at Harvard believe. I am leaving because Professor May says that studying history means that one must constantly discipline oneself to do what one does not want to do. Spare us all from the discipline of Dean May’s world.

I am leaving because the more I learn of what Harvard does in the community, and to its students and employees and of what it means throughout the world, the more ashamed I am of getting a Harvard degree. I am leaving because it is embarrassing to hear a Department Chairman admitting frankly that “I think you are being victimized, but there is nothing I can do about it.” I am leaving even though I respect and appreciate the sincere professional concern which Professors Buck and Freidel have shown me. I am leaving because Professor Heimert-my last, best hope-does not think I should study popular literature either. I am leaving because when I look around I am afraid of what Harvard Graduate School does to people’s souls. I am leaving because I am already so estranged from the Department that I cannot tell any one of them that I am going before I write this letter. I am leaving because I want to teach in junior or community colleges where a Harvard Ph.D. could create an additional barrier between students and myself. I am leaving because Professor May thinks America was imperialist for only a three-year period and because Professor Handlin thinks black people are only another ethnic group. I am leaving because “preserving the amenities” at Harvard means denying any chance for change. Spare us from the “amenities” of any world.

I am leaving because graduate school is making me forget why I ever wanted to learn American History. I am leaving even though Professor Fleming can ask fascinating questions of history. I am leaving because Professor Bailyn says “the Loyalists, we…” I am leaving because studying for generals proved to me that I could pass them but that in the process my mind might be permanently numbed. I am leaving because I have not been learning anything I wanted to learn or could not learn on my own. I am leaving and sending this letter to lots of people in the hopes that it might articulate some feelings others share. I am leaving although it might seem to prove some people right: in fact it does not. I am leaving because I finally realized that it is not great tragedy not to acquire a Harvard Ph.D. I am leaving because I hope to find a better way of learning and teaching and maybe even of living. In the end, I am leaving because I am tired of being told not to be so idealistic about my education. Somebody once said: “the call to abandon illusions about our condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions.” Spare me.